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Everything We Know About Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker

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The final entry in the latest Star Wars trilogy, Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker, is headed to theaters this holiday season. Director J.J. Abrams, who resurrected the Star Wars franchise with 2015’s The Force Awakens, will return to finish what he started. The previous two films in the trilogy, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi (directed by Rian Johnson), have become the highest-grossing Star Wars films in the entire Star Wars franchise, grossing more than the original films, the prequels or either of the spinoffs, Rogue One and Solo.

Actors Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver are all returning for The Rise of Skywalker, which will wrap up the stories of the new heroes as well as the Skywalker family’s generation-spanning struggle between the Dark Side of the Force and the Light. Original trilogy cast members Mark Hamill and the late Carrie Fisher will also reportedly appear. Another favorite from the first trilogy, Billy Dee Williams’ Lando Calrissian — who hasn’t appeared in a live-action Star Wars film since Return of the Jedi in 1983 — will also star. And, in perhaps the biggest surprise for fans, Ian McDiarmid will also return as Emperor Palpatine, the biggest villain of the first two trilogies who seemingly died at the end of Return of the Jedi.

When we last we saw Rey (Ridely), she and Kylo Ren (Driver) teamed up to defeat General Snoke (Andy Serkis), a leader of the evil First Order. Ren proposed that he and Rey leave behind the First Order and the Resistance, respectively, and rule the galaxy together. Rey refused and left to help General Leia Organa (Fisher), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Isaac), and a handful of other fighters who were being pursed by the First Order.

Rey and a Force projection of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) helped the cornered Resistance fighters escape on a single ship — the iconic Millennium Falcon — but Luke became one with the Force and essentially died in the process. The movie ended with a shot of a small boy with a Resistance ring and burgeoning Force awareness looking to the sky, suggesting that there was still hope for those on the side of the Light. Episode IX reportedly picks up at least a year later.

Here’s everything that we know about the movie so far.

When is Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker being released?

The final film in the current Star Wars trilogy will premiere on Dec. 20, 2019.

Production officially began in July 2018. The cast completed filming for the movie this winter. Star John Boyega posted a photo of himself, Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac in February with the caption, “That’s a wrap.” Fans expect a trailer for the film to drop in April.

What is the title of Star Wars: Episode IX?

Kylo Ren's restored helmet in STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER.Lucasfilm Ltd.

LucasFilm announced the title of Episode IX is The Rise of Skywalker during the Star Wars Celebration in Chicago on April 12. Fans are already speculating on what the title could mean: Throughout the trailer, Luke speaks to Rey about how nobody ever leaves you. “The Rise of Skywalker” could refer to his resurrection or ghost-like form.

It could also refer to Rey finding out she is a Skywalker, as many fans have speculated. It could refer to the Kylo Ren, the son of Leia, taking power, either as the big bad or the hero of the film. Or the title could refer to Leia herself as the leader of the Rebellion. It could even be a reference to Darth Vader, born Anakin Skywalker before his turn to the Dark Side.

What do we know about the plot of Star Wars: Episode IX?

(Left to right( Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), BB-8, D-O, Rey (Daisy Ridley), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) in STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKERLucasfilm Ltd.

Unsurprisingly, Lucasfilm has kept the plot of the film under wraps. But John Boyega has hinted that there might be a time jump of at least a year between the end of Last Jedi and the beginning of Episode IX. Abrams confirmed during 2019’s Star Wars Celebration that the movie “doesn’t pick up right where the last movie left off.”

Given that only a handful of fighters remained in the Resistance at the end of Last Jedi, the next movie will likely begin with Rey, Finn, Poe and Rose rallying the troops and recruiting supporters. (Perhaps that’s how they encounter Lando, who was once a Rebel hero.)

The one set photo revealed by Boyega and Abrams on social media (above) shows Rey, Finn and Poe on what looks to be Jakku, Rey’s home planet. Abrams said that he was excited that this movie focused on those three characters as they go on an adventure together. Rey, Finn and Poe were never united at once for a mission in the previous two films.

Oscar Isaac also recently confirmed that Episode IX will conclude “the entire Skywalker saga” that has spanned the three Star Wars trilogies. Those movies have all centered on Anakin Skywalker, Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa and their struggles with the Dark Side and the Light. As the son of Leia and Han, Kylo Ren is presumably the Skywalker representative in the third generation, and he has perhaps struggled the most between the forces of good and evil.

In Last Jedi, Kylo proposed that he and Rey “leave the past behind” and start a new order of the universe entirely. Rey resisted, and some fans are still convinced that she has ties to the Skywalker clan too. Kylo told Rey that her parents were nobodies who sold her for drinking money, but given Kylo’s temperament, he could definitely be gaslighting Rey. Plus, Rey’s vision from Force Awakens has yet to be explained.

Whatever Rey’s parentage, Lucasfilm is billing Episode IX as the movie that will resolve the struggle between Light and Darkness — which likely means another showdown between Rey and Kylo. During Star Wars Celebration, director J.J. Abrams described the movie this way: “In addition to being the end of three trilogies, it also needs to work as it’s own movie. It’s about this new generation and what they’ve inherited, the light and the dark, and asking this question as they face the greatest evil, are they ready?”

He didn’t explain who that “greatest evil” might be — though a laugh at the end of a teaser trailer is clearly that of Emperor Palpatine, thought to have been killed by Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi.

Who will direct Star Wars: Episode IX?

Filmmaker J.J. Abrams leaves an event launching Apple tv+ at Apple headquarters on March 25, 2019, in Cupertino, California. (Photo by NOAH BERGER / AFP) (Photo credit should read NOAH BERGER/AFP/Getty Images)NOAH BERGER—AFP/Getty Images

Initially, LucasFilm tapped Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow to helm the film. But in September of 2017, the studio and Trevorrow parted ways. (It’s unclear whether the poor reviews for Treverrow’s film, Book of Henry, played a role in his departure.)

After a short search for a new director, the studio announced it would bring Abrams, who directed The Force Awakens, back to the franchise to wrap up the trilogy.

Who will appear in Star Wars: Episode IX?

THE AMERICANS - Pictured: Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings. CR: Frank Ockenfels/FX

Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac return to the Resistance as Rey, Finn and Poe. Adam Driver will appear again as baddie Kylo Ren. Joonas Suotamo’s Chewbacca, Jimmy Vee’s R2-D2, Anthony Daniels’ C-3PO and BB-8 will be along for the ride, as will Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose, Lupita Nyong’o’s Maz Kanata, Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux and Billie Lourd’s Lieutenant Connix.

The final film will bring on Kerri Russell (The Americans), Dominic Monaghan (Lord of the Rings), Matt Smith (The Crown), Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) and Naomi Ackie (Lady Macbeth), all in still-mysterious roles. BB-8 also gets a buddy named Dio, who looks a bit like a megaphone on top of a wheel.

At least according to the official cast list, neither Benicio del Toro’s backstabbing character DJ nor Gwendolyn Christie’s seemingly defeated Captain Phasma will return for the film. (Finn actor John Boyega emphasized that Phasma is very much dead at Star Wars Celebration.) Andy Serkis’ General Snoke seems to also be dead for good, since Serkis is not list as one of Episode IX’s cast members.

The biggest news to come out of Star Wars Celebration, besides the name of the film, is the fact that Emperor Palpatine from the original films will play some role in the movie. He cackles at the end of the trailer, and the actor who portrayed him in past films, Ian McDiarmid, showed up on stage.

Will any original Star Wars cast members appear in Star Wars: Episode IX?

General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) in STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKERLucasfilm Ltd.

Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill will both appear in Episode IX.

Back when Trevorrow was still set to direct the film, he said in interviews that the studio initially intended for each of the three films in the current trilogy to focus on a different main character from the original films: Force Awakens would be Han Solo’s movie, Last Jedi Luke’s movie and Episode IX Leia’s.

Sadly, actor Carrie Fisher died in December 2016, about a year before the release of Last Jedi. She finished filming that movie, and Leia is alive, well and still the leader of the Resistance at the end of that film. (Early in the movie, she’s launched into space during an attack but uses the Force to save herself and take up her position as the head of the Resistance forces once again.)

Though Disney did not go back and re-edit Last Jedi to kill off Leia, it did have to re-conceive much of Episode IX. Disney CEO Bob Iger has emphasized that Disney will not use CGI to recreate Leia in the new film, nor will they cast a new actor to play the role. But Lucasfilm has announced that it will weave in unused footage of Fisher that J.J. Abrams filmed for Force Awakens and Rian Johnson filmed for Last Jedi in Episode IX. So Leia will appear in the movie, and presumably she will still be calling the shots for the rebels.

“The weird miracle of having had a number of scenes from Force Awakens that had gone unused, we started to understand there was a way to use those scenes to continue her story. The idea of having a CG character was off the table. But what if there was a way to write scenes around her so that it’s really her in the movie,” J.J. Abrams said during Star Wars Celebration.

Even though Hamill’s Luke Skywalker died at the end of Last Jedi, fans are speculating that he — or, more specifically his ghost — will have a role to play in Episode IX. Cast members have called Episode IX the “end of the Skywalker saga,” and filmmakers have confirmed Hamill will appear in the movie. Luke’s ghost could appear to Rey, much like the ghosts of Obi-Wan and Yoda appeared to Luke in previous films.

Han Solo died in the The Force Awakens, fulfilling Harrison Ford’s long-held wish to kill off the character. Don’t expect him to return as a ghost or otherwise.

Billy Dee Williams, who has been absent from the live-action Star Wars films since the original trilogy, will also make a welcome return to the franchise as Lando Calrissian. (Disney revealed a photo of Lando in one of his famous capes during Star Wars Celebration.) Given the fact that Luke and Leia likely won’t appear in that much of the film, it stands to reason that Lando will play an important role as the connective tissue between the older generation and the new.

What is the next Star Wars film coming out?

"Game Of Thrones" Season 8 Premiere
David Benioff and D. B. Weiss attend the "Game Of Thrones" season 8 premiere on April 3, 2019 in New York City.Mike Coppola—FilmMagic

When Disney acquired Lucasfilm from George Lucas, it began to build not just a series of Star Wars movies but an entire Star Wars universe. In addition to the latest trilogy focused on the Skywalker saga, Lucasfilm has produced two Star Wars spinoff movies: the war drama Rogue One, set just before A New Hope, and Solo, the Han Solo origin story.

Force Awakens quickly became the highest-grossing film of all time in North America and the most successful film in the franchise, with Last Jedi coming in at a close second. Though Rogue One performed well critically and commercially, Solo disappointed at the box office: It became the first Star Wars film to lose money.

Around the time that Solo underperformed, Lucasfilm put several other Star Wars spinoffs, including a Boba Fett movie and an Obi-Wan movie, on hold. As of now, Star Wars: Episode IX is the only Star Wars film with a premiere date set.

But don’t worry: Disney has plenty of other Star Wars properties in the works. Rian Johnson, who helmed Last Jedi, will launch a new Star Wars trilogy that has nothing to do with the Skywalker saga.

Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss will also produce a series of Star Wars films. It’s rumored that their movies will be set during the Old Republic, hundreds of years before the original Star Wars trilogy.

What else is coming to the Star Wars universe?

Pedro Pascal as Mando in The Mandalorian
Pedro Pascal as Mando in The MandalorianDisney/Lucasfilm

Disney has announced two live-action Star Wars shows for their forthcoming streaming service, Disney+. The Mandalorian, a 10-episode series set shortly after Return of the Jedi, is being written and directed by Iron Man and Lion King director Jon Favreau. And Diego Luna is set to reprise his role from Star Wars: Rogue One as Rebel Alliance spy Cassian Andor in another series.

Disney also greenlit a sixth season of the Star Wars animated series, The Clone Wars.

And for theme park fans, the Star Wars theme parks at Walt Disney Land and Walt Disney World are set to open May 31 in California and Aug. 29 in Florida, respectively.

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Write to Eliana Dockterman at eliana.dockterman@time.com